USS Liberty attack

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USS Liberty attack
USS Liberty.jpg
The heavily damaged USS Liberty the day after the attack.
Date: June 8, 1967
Place: Mediterranean Sea near Sinai Peninsula[1]
Result: Liberty heavily damaged,
34 crewmen killed,
171 crewmen wounded

The USS Liberty attack was an attack on a U.S. Navy signals intelligence ship, USS Liberty, in international waters about 12.5 nautical miles (23 km) from the coast of the Sinai Peninsula, north of the Egyptian town of El Arish, by Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967.

It occurred during the Six-Day War, a conflict between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. The Israeli attack killed 34 U.S. servicemen and wounded at least 173. The attack was the second-deadliest against a U.S. warship since the end of World War II and marked the single greatest loss of life by the U.S. intelligence community.

The Israeli and American governments conducted multiple inquiries into the incident, and issued reports claiming the attack was a mistake, caused by confusion among the Israeli attackers about the precise identity of the USS Liberty. These conclusions have been challenged, most notably by an organization of Liberty survivors as well as by some key former high-ranking U.S. officials who were in office at the time. These skeptics have included Secretary of State Dean Rusk, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of the NSA, and the senior legal counsel to the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry into the incident. While the matter is officially closed for purposes of Israeli-American relations, it remains controversial in public discussion.

Israel's official position is that the attack was not the result of an intentional targeting of an American ship. Israeli officials say they were assured by the United States that no U.S. ships were in the area, and that its air and naval forces mistakenly identified Liberty as the Egyptian vessel El Quseir. Supporters of this position say Israel had no motive for a surprise attack on an important ally. They also note that the tense atmosphere of the Six-Day War created the possibility of such mistakes, and point out that the U.S. government, concerned about such dangers, ordered the Liberty further away from shore the night before the attack (bureaucratic and communications problems kept the order from arriving in time).

Others claim that the attack was deliberate and premeditated. They note that the Liberty was more than twice as large as the El Quseir, and was clearly designated with Latin rather than Arabic letters and numbers. Proponents include surviving Liberty crewmen, "The surviving Liberty crewmen . . . believed the attack was deliberate." and some former U.S. government officials, including then-CIA director Richard Helms and then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk as well as Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer, former Chief of Naval Operations and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

According to the book "The Puzzle Palace" (a history of the NSA written by James Bamford), the issue was closed by President Jimmy Carter accepting an Israeli government offer of $6 million in damages for destruction of the vessel; this book also indicates that the surviving family members of crewman affected by the incident had to work out a civil settlement of approximately $3.6 million with lawyers hired by the Israeli government.

The attack on the Liberty

USS Liberty was originally the 7,725-ton (light) civilian cargo ship Simmons Victory (a Victory Ship, the follow-on series to the famous Liberty Ships). She was acquired by the United States Navy, converted to an Auxiliary Technical Research Ship (AGTR), and began her first deployment in 1965 , to waters off the west coast of Africa. She carried out several more operations during the next two years. During the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab nations, she was sent to collect electronic intelligence in the eastern Mediterranean.

Numerous messages were sent by the U.S. Navy to the Liberty, repeatedly changing its operational area, variously ordering the Liberty 33 miles away from the conflict and at others as close as 6.5 miles from Israel. On the night of June 7 Washington time, early morning on June 8, 0110 Coordinated Universal Time, the Pentagon issued an order to Sixth Fleet headquarters to tell the Liberty to come no closer than 100 nautical miles (185 km) to Israel, Syria, or the Sinai coast (Oren, p. 263). [1](pages 5 and Exhibit N, page 58). By the time that warning was sent, the Liberty was already cruising 10-12 miles off the coast of Israel and the Sinai. However, due to a long series of administrative and communications problems, the message to withdraw was not transmitted on the frequency Liberty monitored for orders until 1525Z, hours after the attack. NSA report pp. 21-23

On June 5, at the start of the war, General Yitzhak Rabin (then IDF Chief of Staff) informed Commander Ernest Carl Castle, the American Naval Attache in Tel Aviv, that Israel would defend its coast with every means at its disposal, including sinking unidentified ships. "The failure of the Israeli navy's attacks on Egyptian and Syrian ports early in the war did little to assuage Israel's fears. Consequently, the IDF Chief of Staff, Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, informed the U.S. Naval Attaché in Tel Aviv, Cmdr. Ernest Carl Castle, that Israel would defend its coast with every means at its disposal. Unidentified vessels would be sunk, Rabin advised; the United States should either acknowledge its ships in the area or remove them. Nonetheless, the Americans provided Israel with no information on the Liberty. The United States had also rejected Israel's request for a formal naval liaison. On May 31, Avraham Harman, Israel's ambassador to Washington, had warned Under Secretary of State Eugene V. Rostow that if war breaks out, we would have no telephone number to call, no code for plane recognition, and no way to get in touch with the U.S. Sixth Fleet.'" Oren, Michael B. The USS Liberty: Case Closed, Azure, Spring 5760 / 2000, No. 9. Gen. Rabin went on to advise that the Americans should either reveal which ships it had in the area, or remove them. Despite this, the United States did not give Israel any information about the Liberty, which was by now in the eastern Mediterranean. (ibid).

Liberty turns to evade Israeli torpedo boats.

As war broke out Captain William L. McGonagle of the Liberty immediately asked Vice Admiral William I. Martin at the U.S. 6th Fleet headquarters to send a destroyer to accompany the Liberty and serve as its armed escort and as an auxiliary communications center.

The following day, June 6, Admiral Martin replied: “Liberty is a clearly marked United States ship in international waters, not a participant in the conflict and not a reasonable subject for attack by any nation. Request denied.” He promised, however, that in the unlikely event of an inadvertent attack, jet fighters from the Sixth Fleet could be overhead in ten minutes.

During the morning of the attack, early June 8, the ship was overflown by several Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft. Their exact number and type is disputed; at least one was a Nord Noratlas "flying boxcar" (claimed by the survivors and confirmed by Israel); a photograph shows a C-47 Dakota and other reports speak about Mirage III jet fighters. At least some of those flybys were from a close range. In fact, at 6:00 a.m. Sinai GMT+2 time that morning, Israel confirmed that a Nord Noratlas identified the ship as the USS Liberty, and an additional craft made a separate identification at 9:00AM (Oren, 263-4). Many Liberty crewmen gave testimony that one of the aircraft flew so close to Liberty that its propellers rattled the deck plating of the ship, and the pilots waved to the crew of Liberty, and the crewmen waved back. One explanation explored why subsequent pilots did also not identify the Liberty despite close proximity is that that pilot's attention was diverted to locating Egyptian submarines, and his observation was not relayed to other pilots. (Oren, 264).

At this time, the ship was readying to turn south towards the coast of the Sinai Peninsula from its previous eastern direction. According to author James Bamford, it would then turn east and patrol at 5 knots (9 km/h) in international waters, 13 nautical miles (23 km) off the Sinai Peninsula near El-Arish, just outside Egypt's territorial waters. This course took the Liberty approximately 45 kilometers from its last sighting by IAF pilots by 2 p.m. According to other sources, the Liberty was cruising as fast as 21 to 28 knots, and could have moved 100 kilometers from its last sighting .

At about 2 p.m. the Liberty was attacked by several IAF aircraft, possibly two or three Mirage IIIs, carrying cannon and rockets, followed by Dassault Mysteres carrying napalm. About twenty minutes after the aircraft attack, the ship was approached by three torpedo boats bearing Israeli flags and identification signs. Initially, McGonagle, who perceived that the torpedo boats "were approaching the ship in a torpedo launch attitude,"[2] ordered a machine gun to engage the boats. After recognizing the Israeli standard and seeing apparent Morse code signalling attempts by one of the boats (but being unable to see what was being sent, due to the smoke of the fire started by the earlier aircraft attack), McGonagle gave the order to cease fire. This order was apparently misunderstood in the confusion, and two heavy machine guns on the USS Liberty opened fire. One gun was fired accidentally due to exploding ammunition (Oren, 267). Subsequently, the Israeli boats responded with fire and launched at least two torpedoes at Liberty (five according to the 1982 IDF History Department report). One hit Liberty on the starboard side forward of the superstructure, creating a large hole in what had been a former cargo hold converted to the ships research spaces, causing the majority of the casualties in the incident. The torpedo boats approached Liberty and strafed crewmen (including damage control parties and sailors preparing life rafts for launch) on deck.

Though Liberty was severely damaged, with a 50-foot (15 m) hole and a twisted keel, her crew kept her afloat, and she was able to leave the area under her own power. She was escorted to Malta by units of the U.S. 6th Fleet and was there given interim repairs. After these were completed in July 1967, Liberty returned to the United States. She was decommissioned in June 1968 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register. Liberty was transferred to United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) in December 1970 and sold for scrap in 1973.

McGonagle received the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. medal, for his actions. It was awarded at the Washington Navy Yard by the Secretary of the Navy. The Medal of Honor is generally presented by the President of the United States. [2]

Investigations of the attack

Torpedo damage to Liberty's research compartment (Starboard side).

Several official US and Israeli investigations maintained the initially published conclusion that the event was a tragic mistake through misidentification. The scope of the Israeli investigations was to decide whether or not anyone in the Israeli Defense Forces should be tried on crimes (no criminal wrongdoing was found), accepting as a premise that the attack was a mistake. The scope and performance of U.S. congressional investigations and four other U.S. investigations subsequent to the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry did not satisfy some parties.[3]. The majority of those subsequent U.S. reports were issues such as communications failures rather than culpability. [4]. The Naval Court of Inquiry conclusions continue to be disputed (see below). According to Raymond Garthoff, nonetheless, US military and intelligence agencies are unanimous in finding that the Israeli attack was “deliberate and unprovoked.” [3]

Israeli investigations

Three subsequent Israeli inquiries concluded the attack was conducted because Liberty was confused with an Egyptian vessel and because of failures of communications between Israel and the U.S.

The Israeli government said three crucial errors were made: the refreshing of the status board (removing the ship's classification as American, so that the later shift did not see it identified), the erroneous identification of the ship as an Egyptian vessel, and the lack of notification from the returning aircraft informing Israeli headquarters of markings on the front of the hull (markings that would not be found on an Egyptian ship).

American investigations

Ten official American investigations are claimed regarding the Liberty incident, including:

Critics -- including an active group of survivors from the ship -- assert that five U.S. congressional investigations and four other U.S. investigations were not investigations into the attack at all, but rather reports using evidence only from the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, or investigations unrelated to the culpability of the attack but rather discussing issues such as communications. In their view, the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry is the only investigation on the incident to date. They claim it was hastily conducted, in only 10 days, even though the court’s president, Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd, said that it would take 6 months to conduct properly.[5]

The incident exposed possible weaknesses in the military capabilities of the U.S., in that the USA was apparently unable to reliably transmit orders from Washington to its naval ships in the field and count on them being received and promptly obeyed. [6] The USS Liberty was a highly sophisticated electronics eavesdropping ship with the best radio equipment in the fleet, yet it claimed not to have received orders to leave the battle zone. Investigations threatened to expose publicly and emphasize either an inability of U.S. warships to receive orders from Washington dependably or else a failure of a U.S. naval captain to follow orders. One possibility is that the U.S. Navy sought to avoid embarrassing discussions of its operational deficiencies.

The National Archives in College Park, Md., includes in its files on Liberty's casualties copies of the original telegrams the Navy sent out to family members. The telegrams called the attack accidental. The telegrams were sent out June 9, the day before the Navy court of inquiry convened. [7]

Captain Ward Boston, JAGC, U.S. Navy, has in recent years said the court's findings were intended to cover up what was a deliberate attack by Israel on a ship it knew to be American. He has prepared and signed an affadavit (pdf) in which he claimed that Admiral Kidd had told him that the government ordered Kidd to falsely report that the attack was a mistake, and that he and Kidd both believed the attack was deliberate. He wrote, in part:

"The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack, which killed 34 American sailors and injured 172 others, was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew. Each evening, after hearing testimony all day, we often spoke our private thoughts concerning what we had seen and heard. I recall Admiral Kidd repeatedly referring to the Israeli forces responsible for the attack as 'murderous bastards.' It was our shared belief, based on the documentary evidence and testimony we received first hand, that the Israeli attack was planned and deliberate, and could not possibly have been an accident."

Still, there is no record of Kidd ever publicly expressing such opinions.[4]

Critics of Boston believe that he is not telling the truth in regard to Kidd's views and any pressure from the government.[8]. In particular, A. Jay Cristol, who also served as an officer of the Judge Advocate General in the U.S. military, suggests that Boston was responsible in part for the original conclusions of the Court of Inquiry, and that by later declaring that they were false he has admitted to "lying under oath." Critics also note that Boston's claims about pressure on Kidd were hearsay, and that Kidd was not alive to confirm or deny them. They also note that Boston did not maintain prior to his affadavit and comments related to it that Kidd spoke of such instructions to him or to others. Supporters of the intentional-attack theory believe that Boston's statement invalidates the conclusions of the Court, and that Boston would not have made such an accusation if he did not know it to be true.

Ongoing Controversy & Unresolved Questions

Several key intelligence and military officials dispute Israel's explanation:

  • "...the board of inquiry (concluded) that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing in attacking the Liberty."- Former CIA Director Richard Helms[5]
  • "I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. . . . Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn't believe them then, and I don't believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous "- Former US Secretary of State Dean Rusk[6]

Some of the survivors claim that this incident stands as the only peacetime attack on a U.S. naval vessel not investigated by Congress, and want a full Congressional hearing[9]. They claim that a proper investigation has never taken place and that all previous reports, including the ones by the U.S. Congress, are incomplete, mention the incident in passing, and either that they are intended to exonerate Israel or that they do not even question the culpability of the attack (instead, they hold, it focuses on other topics, such as American communication problems).

Israel stated that the attack was not deliberate using the following arguments:

  • The previous day, Israel's warplanes had erroneously attacked an Israeli armored column, demonstrating unintentional mistakes, where the IAF had even attacked Israel's own forces.
  • The incident took place during the Six Day War when Israel was engaged in battles with three Arab countries, creating an environment where mistakes and confusion were prevalent. For example, at 11:45, a few hours before the attack, there was a large explosion on the shores of El-Arish followed by black smoke, probably caused by the destruction of an ammunition dump by retreating Egyptian forces. The Israeli army thought the area was being bombarded, and that an unidentified ship offshore was responsible. (According to U.S. sources, Liberty was 14 nautical miles (26 km) from those shores at the time of the attack.)
  • Had Israel intended to attack the USS Liberty, IAF aircraft would have been sent out with bombs, not light machine gun ammunition, sinking the Liberty within the first few minutes of the incident. [10]
  • The attacking aircraft used napalm rockets and machine guns, and napalm is an ineffective armament for doing real damage to a steel-hulled ship—other than starting fires in combustibles. Machine guns, though, are often used to keep a ship's company under cover, thus keeping the company from manning weather deck stations and doing damage control topside.
  • Liberty opened fire first on the gunboats. This, though, was after the aerial attacks.
  • No adequate benefit has been put forward that the Israelis would derive from the attack on an American ship, especially considering the high cost of the predictable complications that must inevitably follow such an attack on a powerful ally, and the fact that Israel immediately notified the American embassy after the attack.

Some survivors of Liberty, U.S. government officials and U.S. military officers have asserted that the attack was premeditated. (All sides agree, of course, that the IAF intended to attack a ship, and in that sense the attack was obviously premeditated. The survivors argue, however, that when IAF jets and IDF boats attacked, they knew the ship was not Egyptian but American.)

James Ennes, a junior officer (and off-going Officer of the Deck) on Liberty's bridge at the time of the attack, has published a book titled Assault on the Liberty. Like virtually all accounts of the "Liberty" incident, it has come under heavy criticism by those disagreeing with its point of view.

Ennes and Joe Meadors, another survivor of the attack, runs a website that was built "with support and encouragement from the USS Liberty Veterans Association." Meadors states that the classification of the attack as deliberate is the official policy of the association, to which all known survivors belong. Other survivors run several additional websites.

Several books and the BBC documentary USS Liberty: Dead in the Water tried to prove Liberty was attacked on purpose. They claim that the ship was attacked to prevent the U.S. from knowing about the forthcoming attack in the Golan Heights, which apparently would violate a cease-fire to which Israel's government had agreed.[11] Such a motive remains only speculation, however, and is contradicted by the fact that the USS Liberty had no Hebrew translators on board, but was manned to monitor Arabic and Soviet radio traffic, [12] and that a signals-listening ship at sea level could not have seen what Israel was doing on the ground in-land, although U.S. spy satellites and spy planes could do so in spite of the attack on the Liberty. Such a proposed motive also requires the assumption that Israel did not want the U.S., its only real ally, to know its plans, but was willing to commit an act of war against that same ally.

Critics claim many of the books and documentaries include incorrect assumptions. For example, critics note that a document declassified in 1997 indicated that the U.S. Ambassador at the time had reported on the day of the Liberty attack that he "would not be surprised" by an Israeli attack on Syria, and that the IDF Intelligence chief had told a White House aide then in Israel that "there still remained the Syria problem and perhaps it would be necessary to give Syria a blow,"[7] which, the critics argue, indicate that Israel was not trying to conceal the planned invasion of Syria from the U.S.

The 1981 book Weapons by Russell Warren Howe asserts that Liberty was accompanied by the Polaris armed Lafayette class submarine USS Andrew Jackson, which filmed the entire episode through its periscope but was unable to provide assistance. According to Howe: "Two hundred feet below the ship, on a parallel course, was its 'shadow'- the Polaris strategic submarine Andrew Jackson, whose job was to take out all the Israeli long-range missile sites in the Negev if Tel Aviv decided to attack Cairo, Damascus or Baghdad. This was in order that Moscow would not have to perform this task itself and thus trigger World War Three."

In 2003, journalist Peter Hounam wrote Operation Cyanide: How the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III, which proposes a completely different theory regarding the incident. In an attempt to explain why there was no support by U.S. forces as backup, Hounam claims that Israel and U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson had secretly agreed on day four of the Six Day War that Liberty would be sunk with complete loss of life. The attack would be blamed on Egypt, allowing the U.S. in turn to attack Egypt, thus helping out Israel. However, according to Hounam's theory, because the Liberty did not sink after two hours, the plan was quickly reversed, Israel apologized for the case of mistaken identity, and a cover-up put into place. Likewise the BBC documentary (2002) claims that the Liberty incident provoked the launch of nuclear-armed planes targeted against Cairo from a US aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. It is claimed in the theory that they were recalled only just in time, when it was clear the Liberty had not sunk with all hands, and that Israel was responsible [13].

From the early 1950s up to shortly before the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel's primary military ally was France. The United States, with a few exceptions, consistently refused requests for sales of offensive weapons to Israel until 1968. The height of French-Israeli cooperation was in the 1956 Suez war, when France, Israel and the United Kingdom participated in a combined ground, sea and air offensive against Egypt, despite stringent opposition from the United States and threats from the Soviet Union.

NSA Tapes & Recent Developments

On July 2, 2003, the National Security Agency released copies of the recordings made by an EC-121 aircraft that flew near the attacks from 2:30 p.m. to 3:27 p.m., Sinai time (1230 to 1337 Z), and the resultant translations and summaries.[14] These revelations were elicited as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Florida bankruptcy judge and retired naval aviator Jay Cristol.

English transcripts of the tapes -- recorded by U.S. warplanes -- reveal that Israel still believed it had hit an Egyptian supply ship even after the attack had stopped. [15] [16] After the attack, the rescue helicopters are heard relaying several urgent requests that the rescuers ask the first survivor pulled out of the water what his nationality is, and discussing whether the survivors from the attacked ship will speak Arabic. [17]

The NSA reported that there had been no radio intercepts related to the attack made by the USS Liberty itself, nor there had been any radio intercepts made by the U.S. submarine Amberjack.

Within an hour of learning that the Liberty had been torpedoed the Director, NSA, LTG Marshall S. Carter, USA, sent a message to all intercept sites requesting a special search of all communications that might reflect the attack or reaction. No communications were available. However, one of the airborne platforms, a U.S. Navy EC-121, had collected voice conversations between two Israeli helicopter pilots and the control tower at Hazor Airfield following the attack on the Liberty.[18]

The NSA-translated tapes show that the helicopters were first dispatched to rescue Egyptians (control tower to helicopter 815 at 1234Z: "The ship has now been identified as an Egyptian ship"), and that they demonstrate confusion as to the identification of the target ship. (e.g. control tower to helicopter 815 at 1310Z "The first thing is for you to clarify what nationality they are. Notify me immediately.") Cristol adds: "The tapes confirm that the helicopter pilot observed the flag at 3:12 p.m." (1312Z) which would coincide with the audio tapes the Israel Air Force released to Cristol of the radio transmissions before, during and after the attack. The English translations of the Israeli Air Force tapes are published in Appendix 2 of Cristol's book The Liberty Incident.

On October 10, 2003, The Jerusalem Post ran an interview with Yiftah Spector, one of the pilots who participated in the attack [19], and thought to be the lead pilot of the first wave of planes. Spector said the ship was assumed to be Egyptian. The interview also contains the transcripts of the Israeli communications about the Liberty.

As of 2006, the National Security Agency (NSA) has yet to declassify "boxes and boxes" of Liberty documents. Numerous requests under both declassification directives and the Freedom of Information Act are pending in various agencies including the NSA, Central Intelligence Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency. The New York Times reported on December 21, 2006 that additional material about the Liberty incident would be released in 2007. [20]

"... On June 8, 2007, the National Security Agency released hundreds of additional declassified documents on the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, a communications interception vessel, on June 8, 1967." [21]

On June 8, 2005, the USS Liberty Veterans Association filed a "Report of War Crimes Committed Against the U.S. Military, June 8, 1967" with the Department of Defense (DoD). They say Department of Defense Directive 2311.01E requires the Department of Defense to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations contained in their report. Since the DoD maintains that the incident has already been investigated, it is unclear at this writing if the DoD will process this "Report" as a new investigation.

Details in dispute

The "Second Ensign" flown during the attack. Israel Defense Forces' investigative reports say their pilots and torpedo boat commander saw no flags during the attack.

The events surrounding the attack, even very simple elements such as its duration, are the subject of controversy. Among the disputed facts:

  • Visibility of ensign: The most vehemently debated point is the visibility of the American flags that the ship was flying; Americans claimed the flags were clearly visible in the wind. The Israeli pilots claimed they did not see any flag. Official reports have the Liberty cruising at 5 knots (9 km/hour) on a calm day, so that the flag would have been furled or fouled, while others maintain the ship was cruising at 28 knots, and insist the flag should have been clearly visible.
  • USS Liberty bore an eight-foot-high "5" and a four-foot-high "GTR" along either bow, clearly indicating her hull (or "pendant") number (AGTR-5), and had 18-inch-high letters spelling the vessel's name across the stern. These markings were not cursive Arabic script but in English. Israeli pilots claim initially they were primarily concerned with making sure the ship was not Israeli and that they called off the attack when they noticed the English markings.[22]
  • A James Bamford book, published in 2001, claimed that secret NSA intercepts recorded by an American reconnaissance aircraft indicate that Israeli pilots had full knowledge they were attacking a U.S. vessel.[8][23]. This 2001 proposition has played a significant role in the on-going controversies about the incident, and continues to be widely cited. However, the tapes were later released by the National Security Agency in 2003 as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Judge and author A. Jay Cristol. These tapes record communications after the attack was over with Israeli helicopter pilots who were not involved in the attack and who were sent to provide assistance. These pilots noticed an American flag flying from the ship.[24] and informed their control tower. See other souces for a link to the NSA website with complete transcripts. The NSA Website denies that there were any U.S. recordings of the attack itself.
  • Significance of U.S. flag: Critics and defenders debate whether a U.S. flag, if seen, should have been believed by the IAF in wartime, when the U.S. had informed Israel that the U.S. had no ships in the area, or taken as a deception by Egypt.
  • Israeli aircraft markings: Some American survivors of the attack assert that the Israeli aircraft were unmarked. However, aircraft markings are not required by the laws of war and Israel almost exclusively flew distinctive Dassault Mirage III aircraft.
  • Jamming: An additional point on which Israel did not comment is the use of radio jamming. In the absence of reliable records, it is only left to speculate whether jamming (of Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies) did take place, or whether the deficiency in communications originated in the attack itself (i.e., loss of power and damage of antennas). Both Liberty and USS Saratoga radio operators reported hearing the distinctive buzzing sound usually indicative of radio frequency jamming. According to a book by Russell Warren Howe (see below), Captain McGonagle testified that the jamming of his transmissions had been on American, not Egyptian, frequencies, suggesting that the Israelis were aware of the nationality of the ship. The U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry concluded that Liberty experienced jamming (finding 48).
  • Probability of identification: Americans claim the thirteen closer flybys of the previous two days should have been sufficient for identification. Israel acknowledged the ship had been identified as American and neutral the previous day; however, it claims that at 11 a.m., the ship moved out of the status board. An hour later, when explosions were heard in El-Arish, Israel claims to have reacquired the ship without being aware that it was the same one that was flown over the day before.
  • Effort for identification: The American crew claims the attacking aircraft did not make identification runs over Liberty, but rather began to strafe immediately. One Israeli report claims several passes were made.
  • Speed of the vessel: According to Israeli accounts, they made (admittedly erroneous) measurements that indicated the ship was steaming at 30 knots (56 km/h). Supposedly, Israeli naval doctrine at the time required that a ship traveling at that speed must be presumed to be a warship. The speed of Liberty was later recalculated to be 28 knots (52 km/h), although maximum sustained speed of Liberty was only 17.5 knots (32 km/h), 21 knots (39 km/h) being attainable by overriding the engine governors. According to Body of Secrets, by James Bamford, and Liberty crewmen (including the Officer-of-the-Deck), the ship was steaming at 5 knots (9 km/h) at the time of the attack.
  • Visual communications: Joe Meadors, the signalman on bridge, states that "Immediately prior to the torpedo attack, he was on the Signal Bridge repeatedly sending 'USS Liberty U.S. Navy Ship' by flashing light to the torpedo boats." The Israeli boats claim to have read only the signal "AA", which was exactly the signal dispatched by the Egyptian destroyer Ibrahim Al-Awal when it was engaged by the Israeli Navy eleven years earlier. Meadors claims he never sent "AA" (which would require him to identify himself as well); this disagreement may be settled by considering the fact that Liberty was unable to read signals sent from the boats.
  • Call for ID: Israel claims to have called the ship on radio several times without receiving an answer, while the American crew members deny ever receiving a call for identification. The crew's failure to receive any call for identification may be related to the possible Israeli jamming of radio frequencies. (Refer to Jamming above.)
Commander W.L. McGonagle in his damaged cabin after the attack.
  • Israeli ships' actions after the torpedo hit: Some of the crewmembers claim that after the Liberty had been torpedoed, Israeli boats circled the ship firing machine guns at descended (unmanned) life rafts and sailors on board the ship. Israelis claim they recognized the ship as American immediately after it was hit and ceased fire. Two survivors Lloyd Painter and Glenn Oliphant claim to have seen the life rafts being fired upon, but the ship's captain and others on deck made no mention of this. Oliphant said the life rafts were “about 150 yards behind the ship”, Painter said the life raft he saw getting shot “had been cut loose and was floating in the water”. Captain Ward Boston, senior counsel to the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, supports Painter’s claim that his testimony about the life rafts being shot at was removed from the court’s report. [25]
  • Israeli offers of help: Reports differ regarding whether the Israeli boats offered help. Some crew members claim the torpedo boats simply withdrew, while the captain and the Israeli crew report that help was offered; the captain testified before the court of inquiry that he had asked the Israeli boats to stay away by the means of signal flags-. Ennes acknowledges the Israelis offered help but claims they only did so at 4:30
  • U.S. rescue attempts: At least two rescue attempts were launched from U.S. aircraft carriers nearby but were recalled, according to David Lewis, officer of the deck (OOD) during the attack. Lewis wrote and made an audio recording about a meeting 6th Fleet Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis requested in his cabins: "He told me that since I was the senior Liberty survivor on board he wanted to tell me in confidence what had actually transpired. He told me that upon receipt of our SOS, aircraft were launched to come to our assistance and then Washington was notified. He said that the Secretary of Defense (Robert McNamara) had ordered that the aircraft be returned to the carrier which was done. RADM Geis then said that he speculated that Washington may have suspected that the aircraft carried nuclear weapons so he put together another flight of conventional aircraft that had no capability of carrying nuclear weapons. These he launched to assist us and again notified Washington of his actions. Again McNamara ordered the aircraft recalled. He requested confirmation of the order being unable to believe that Washington would let us sink. This time President Johnson ordered the recall with the comment that he did not care if every man drowned and the ship sank, but that he would not embarrass his allies. This is, to the best of my ability, what I recall transpiring 30 years ago."
Protesters at 2007 rally.

Names of fatalities

  • Cryptologic Tech 3rd Class William B. Allenbaugh, USN
  • Lt Cmdr. Philip M. Armstrong Jr., USN
  • Seaman Gary R. Blanchard, USN
  • Cryptologic Technician 2nd Class Allen M. Blue, NSA
  • Quartermaster 3rd Class Francis Brown, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 2nd Class Ronnie J. Campbell, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 2nd Class Jerry L. Converse, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 2nd Class Robert B. Eisenberg, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 2nd Class Jerry L. Goss, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 1st Class Curtis L. Graves, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech Lawrence P. Hayden, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 1st Class Warren Hersey, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 3rd Class Alan Higgins, USN
  • Seaman Carl L. Hoar, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 2nd Class Richard W. Keene, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech James L. Lenau, USN
  • Chief Cryptologic Tech Raymond E. Linn, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 1st Class James M. Lupton, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 3rd Class Duane R. Marggraf, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech David W. Marlborough, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 2nd Class Anthony P. Mendle, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech Carl C. Nygren, USN
  • Lt. James C. Pierce, USN
  • Sgt. Jack Raper, U.S.M.C.
  • Cpl. Edward Rehmayer II, U.S.M.C.
  • Interior Comms Electrician David N. Skolak, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 1st Class John C. Smith Jr, USN
  • Chief Cryptologic Tech Melvin D. Smith, USN
  • Postal Clerk 2nd Class John C. Spicher, USN
  • Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Alexander N. Thompson, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 3rd Class Thomas R. Thornton, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 3rd Class Phillipe C. Tiedtke, USN
  • Lt. Stephen S. Toth, USN
  • Cryptologic Tech 1st Class Frederick J. Walton, USN

Note: The rating "cryptologic technician" reflects current usage. In 1967, the rating was called "communications technician."[26]


  • A History of Israel by Ahron Bregman contains extracts from the tapes. (ISBN 0-333-67631-9)
  • Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Michael B. Oren, Oxford University Press (ISBN 0-19-515174-7)
  • Assault on the Liberty: The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship, by James M. Ennes, Jr. (ISBN 0-9723116-0-2) Currently in its 9th printing.
  • The Puzzle Palace, by James Bamford, Penguin Books, 1982, has a detailed description of the Israeli attack on the SIGINT ship USS Liberty, and the events leading up to it, on pages 279-293.
  • Body of Secrets, by James Bamford, devotes a detailed chapter to the incident, and concludes it was deliberate. Doubleday, 2001 (ISBN 0-09-942774-5)
  • Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide: Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III, Vision Paperbacks. 2003, ISBN 1-904132-19-7,
  • Anthony Pearson, Conspiracy of Silence: The Attack on the USS Liberty, 1979 ISBN 0-7043-2164-5
  • John Borne, The USS Liberty, Dissenting History vs. Official History
  • In Chapter 15 on "The Six Day War and Its Consequences", dissects the sequence of events and concurrent attacks on Arab towns and explores the possibility that the attack on this U.S. spy ship was an intentional act to prevent U.S. monitoring of Israeli military actions, and that the intent was to kill all on board before any kind of communications could be sent out.

External links

U.S. government sites

Other sources

Sources claiming attack was deliberate

Survivors of the attack

Other sources

  1. {{{author}}}, Tag, [[{{{publisher}}}]], [[{{{date}}}]].
  2. Congressional Medal of Honor Society, accessed June 20, 2007
  3. Raymond Garthoff, A Journey Through the Cold War Washington, DC: 2001 p. 214.
  4. "However, according to his own account, Boston's evidence of a cover-up derives not from his own part in the investigation but solely on alleged conversations with Admiral Kidd, who purportedly told him he was forced to find that the attack was unintentional. Kidd died in 1999 and there is no way to verify Boston's allegations. However, Cristol argues that the 'documentary record' strongly indicated that Kidd 'supported the validity of the findings of the Court of Inquiry to his dying day.'" The USS Liberty Attack, Anti-Defamation League, June 9, 2004.
  5. Richard Helms. Over My Shoulder. New York: Random House, 2003. ISBN 037550012X
  6. Dean Rusk. As I Saw It. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990. ISBN 0140153918
  7. LBJ, National Security File, Box 104/107, Middle East Crisis: Jerusalem to the Secretary of State, June 8, 1967; Barbour to Department, June 8, 1967; Joint Embassy Memorandum, June 8, 1967.
  8. CNN report by David Ensor, CNN, April 23, 2001. Report cites material from: Body of Secrets, by James Bamford, Doubleday, 2001 (ISBN 0-09-942774-5)

External links

See also

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.